La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 24 March 2012

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 26 - Apr. 1)

Tenor Michael Schade (r.) and baritone Luca Pisaroni (l.) at Roy Thomson Hall Duo Recital

With the demise of the Roy Thomson Hall International Vocal Series at the end of last season, a replacement of sorts was offered to subscribers - a short series of three shows: Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, pianist Yundi Li and the duo recital of tenor Michael Schade and baritone Thomas Quasthoff. As is often the case with performing artists, expect the unexpected. Yundi postponed his recital to a date yet to be determined, and a month ago, it was announced that baritone Thomas Quasthoff has retired and as a result, all upcoming engagements cancelled. In his place is rising Italian baritone Luca Pisaroni. Having heard him as Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutte, I must say he is an excellent replacement. This recital takes place at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday March 30th at 8 p.m. Program details at Interesting that this is not just a program thrown together at the last minute, as the two are doing quite a few duets that require extensive rehearsals. The audience will love the cluster of Viennese bon bons - a Schade specialty - at the end. Justus Zeyen is the collaborative pianist.

Former Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Jukka Pekka Saraste is returning for a mixed program of Brahms Symphony No. 3, Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 and Sibelius' late tone poem Tapiola, a dramatic and brooding piece that doesn't get performed all that often. Pekka Kuusisto is the violinist in the Prokofiev. Two shows - Thurs. March 29 and Saturday March 31, both at 8 p.m. There will be an intermission chat, and hopefully it will be with Maestro Saraste. His tenure in Toronto wasn't the happiest, but it's always good that he returns occasionally to our city and our orchestra!

On March 29 at 1:30 p.m., the Women's Musical Club of Toronto is presenting the Cecilia String Quartet. This fast-rising ensemble won First Prize at the 2010 Banff International String Quartet Competition, the first Canadian win since the St. Lawrence Quartet twenty years ago. CSQ is currently the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Royal Conservatory of Music here in Toronto. On the program is works by Mozart, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Puccini's wonderful "Crisantemi" that the composer later reused in act 4 of Manon Lescaut, and a work by Canadian composer Ana Sokolovic. Both the Cecilia String Quartet and Ana Sokolovic have been featured on the cover of La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene. The concert takes place at Walter Hall.

As the season finale to its 2012 New Wave Composers Festival, the Esprit Orchestra is presenting a concert with the intriguing title, Turned On By Texture, featuring the music of Xenakis, Somers, Jimmie LeBlanc, and Adam Scime, under the baton of Alex Pauk. It takes place at Koerner Hall on Thursday Mar. 29 at 8 p.m. There is a pre-concert talk at 7:15 by pianist Jamie Parker. I find that with new music, it is absolutely imperative to learn everything possible about the works beforehand to get the maximum enjoyment out of the performance. The website mentions that Adam Scime's Mirage is "top selected work from Esprit's orchestral reading session of scores composed by students of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Also featured is the announcement of the Ontario Emerging Composer Award organized by the Canadian Music Centre."

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra had its 30th anniversary gala performance of Hercules at Koerner Hall back in January. Now to celebrate its renowned Chamber Choir, it is presenting Choral Spectacular: Celebrating 30 Years on Mar. 29 at its usual venue, Trinity St. Paul Centre. On the program are works by Bach, Handel, Rameau, Martin, Poulenc, Taverner, and Whitacre. Under the direction of Ivars Taurins, there will be four performances at Trinity St. Paul on Mar. 29, 30, and 31 at 8 p.m. and a matinee on Sunday Apr. 1 at 3:30 p.m. As well, there will be a performance on Tuesday Mar. 27 at the George Weston Recital Hall in North York.

Last but definitely not least is the concert by the Toronto Philharmonia Orchestra on Thursday Mar. 29 8 p.m. at the George Weston Recital Hall. Uri Mayer leads the forces in a program of Bach, Stravinsky, and the fabulous Dvorak Cello Concerto Op. 104 in B minor. Cellist Winona Zelenka is the guest soloist.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Leonard Gilbert in Recital at Steinway Piano Gallery

(top) Steinway Gallery recital (Photo: Yuan Huang) (l.) The evening program; (l.) Leonard Gilbert signing autographs; (bottom) Concentration! (Photo: Alice Wong)

Canadian pianist Leonard Gilbert is among a handful of promising young artists making their mark in the piano world. He has been singularly successful the last few years in competitions. Four-time winner of the Canadian Music Competition, Gilbert won the Third Canadian Chopin Competition in 2010, which allowed him an entry into the 16th Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in fall 2011, the only Canadian in the field. He also had success at the American Paderewski Competition in Los Angeles, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Competition, and the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati. A student of the famed pedagogue Menahem Pressler at Indiana University, Leonard Gilbert combines technical prowess with uncommon musicality. A young Steinway artist, Gilbert gave a recital to a packed house at Euromusic's Steinway Piano Gallery in Markham, Ontario on St. Patrick's Day.

He opened with Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze", a familiar aria from Cantata BWV 208 with transcription by Petri. Then he proceeded to Beethoven's Sonata in A flat major Op. 110, which rounded out the first half. After a 15 minute intermission, Gilbert returned for twelve Chopin Etudes, Op. 25. The enthusiastic audience gave him repeated ovations. They were rewarded with two encores, a Chopin Waltz and La Campanella by Liszt. Overall, it was a very enjoyable program. I liked his Chopin Etudes the best. The "Book Two" Op. 25 Etudes followed the "Book One" Op. 10 by four years. The Op. 25 pieces all have "nicknames" the likes of Bees, Butterfly, Winterwind etc. The colours and rhythms of each piece is meant to imitate or evoke a particular instrument, animal, or a naturally occurring phenomenon. Playing with fluidity and clarity, Gilbert captured beautifully the essence of each piece. In some of the pieces he made a very big sound, perhaps bigger than necessary given the intimate venue, a modest room that sits perhaps a hundred people. If I were to nitpick, I do find his "Sheep May safely Graze" more of a work in progress. On this occasion, his playing while note-correct needed clearer phrasing and a surer sense of the rhythmic pulse, with some well-placed rubati and stronger sense of chiaroscuro. It's not an easy piece to bring off - an artist the stature of Olga Kern said when I interviewed her recently that she doesn't yet have the courage to play Bach in public, presumably because of its exacting nature. A similar sentiment was expressed to me back in 2008 when I interviewed Montreal Competition winner Nareh Arghamanyan who considers playing Bach a pinnacle and a real challenge. Given Gilbert's youth, further maturity and deepening of his art can be expected, and I look forward to his next recital.

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This Week in Toronto (Mar. 19 - 25)

Canadian conductor Nathan Brock (Photo: artist website)

After the challenging two-week New Creations Festival and a one-week "Spring Break" hiatus, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra returns with a week of "easy-listening" - three performances (Mar. 20 8 p.m., and Mar. 21 at 2 and 8 p.m.) of their Pops Series: A Century of Broadway. Jeff Tyzik conducts the TS forces in selections from Show Boat, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera and other Broadway hits. On Mar. 24 7:30 p.m. and Mar. 25 3 p.m., young Canadian conductor Nathan Brock is on the podium in a program of Russian Romantics, featuring the music of Glinka, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky. Cellist Joshua Roman is the guest soloist.

As part of the Vocal Series of the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre noon hour programming this week, the students of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music is presenting Northern Landscapes: Art Songs of Scandinavia on Mar. 20. Steven Philcox is at the piano. The program ranges from familiar names the likes of Grieg and Sibelius to the lesser known Scandinavian composers (Kilpinen and Weyse). Click on the link for the program On Mar. 21, the Piano Virtuoso Series presents Mussorgsky's masterpiece, Pictures at an Exhibition, with rising Canadian pianist Alexander Serendenko. In addition to the Mussorgsky, he is playing Chopin, Scarlatti and Larysa Kuzmenko's Memoriam for the Victims of Chernobyl. For program, go to

The Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music is presenting its annual spring opera, this time it's Cavalli's La Calisto, featuring students of the RCM. Brent Krysa is the director and Adam Burnette conducts. Performances on Mar. 21 and 23 at 8 p.m. at Koerner Hall.

On Sunday, Mar. 25 at 2:30 p.m., the University of Toronto Faculty of Music is presenting In Praise of Song, a program of choral pieces featuring the MacMillan Singers, Women's Chorus and the Men's Chorus, in works by Scarlatti, Staheli, Massenet, Ruth Watson Henderson, Hogan and Betinis. The concert takes place at the MacMillan Theatre, Edward Johnson Building.

Music Toronto's Discovery Series is presenting Canadian violinist Veronique Mathieu and pianist Stephanie Chua in a program of music by well known women composers - Lili Boulanger, Ana Sokolovic, Kaija Saariaho, Clara Schumann, Heather Schmidt, and Louise Farrenc. Concert takes place at the Jane Mallett Theatre on March 22 8 p.m. For more information, go to